Ti Chou

I realize it’s been a while since I posted anything on here about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness… so here goes!

Work has been pretty good recently. There have been many praise reports for me personally from the people I have talked to over time on the street. I am constantly being stretched as a leader and a follower of Christ at this job. There is no room for lukewarm faith here so I have had to play catch up with the level at which God wants me to operate while in NYC. Every day is a challenge.. Every day! If you’ve been here (this blog or in my life) long enough, you know that I have tendencies to shy away from leadership and generally want to take the easy way out. Every day is at least a small struggle for me in that aspect because even if I don’t act on the feeling, it’s still there. I still would rather just return home and watch the office for the 3rd time while eating buffalo wings instead of be a leader to people and intimately talk about the effects of evil in people’s lives. But by God’s grace I continue to show up and he continues to teach me and speak through me and speak TO me. Every day I wake up with breath in my lungs and sanity in my mind I am awed by how God continues to use me.

I am pretty much in the swing of things at NYCR and have just a couple of extras to nail down before I am fully integrated into the outreach system. I had a break down a couple weeks ago when everything came to a head, the physical exhaustion, the emotional drain, the spiritual warfare; but all without relying on God for strength and renewal each day. I realized that I hadn’t been giving God the time of day and therefore had no charger for my spiritual and emotional batteries. I felt the urge to commit my mornings afresh to God and spend time in his presence and before him. The Psalmist says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forever more” and I have found that to be true over the past month. I have been in such a better place emotionally and spiritually since committing to waking up an hour early each day and starting on my knees before the throne. If you haven’t had the energy to do life lately I suggest you take a little bit less time to sleep and a little more time in devotion to our Source of everything! You won’t regret it.

LASTLY and possibly most importantly. God has been moving in crazy and mysterious ways in my life recently and in the life of a coworker Lauren W. We have had time over the past few months to hang out and get to know each other a little bit, but this past weekend we decided to pursue dating! We both have pain and scars of the past but God is so amazing and loving to gently heal those using each other. Just the other night we had the craziest experience ever involving part of her past and it couldn’t have gone better. The salvation from and healing towards that was felt to the core as we processed together what had just happened. We haven’t told too many people yet outside of our work family, so there it is! The funniest and most mysterious thing is how we are total opposites.. I always heard that “opposites attract” but I never believed it until now. There is so much that I want to say about her but I will leave that to the future for now. There’s no way I could have ever planned her, or this, in my life. The healing that God has already done via each other in our lives is amazing. That’s how you know it’s a God thing.

I look forward to everyone meeting this precious soul in the near future 🙂

To not end on a note that makes me sound crazy, I implore each one of you to pray for me as I open yet another door into the future. First and foremost I need prayer for guidance. Guidance in my emotions and my decisions when it comes to Lauren. I also need prayer for the Holy Spirit to lead me in my “dealings” as I like to call them, with her each and every day. I want to honor and respect her for the daughter and heiress that she is and that doesn’t come naturally. I need prayer for deliverance over my sin and for continued purity. I need prayer for patience as I want to go fast. I need prayer for continued deep peace about our relationship that I have already been blessed with!

We are so excited to see what God is going to continue to do in our lives and how he plans on doing it!

Blessings,

Ben

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Frustrating Love

As I tap the ash off of my cigar and mull over the past 14 hours, I am struck yet again by the overwhelmingly consistent yet often frustrating and mysterious love of God for people.

You see, God’s love isn’t convenient. It doesn’t ever take the easy way. And that’s often annoying to me. I’ll be the first to tell you that generally I’m a selfish person. If we are all brutally honest with ourselves and our affections and desires we’d all come to the conclusion that we are selfish. There are times, moments, tastes of selflessness but they are vastly outnumbered by selfish motivations and actions. I’m no different.

God has placed me at NYCR in part, to teach me to face my selfish heart and slowly, consistently work on and change it. While our 30 year anniversary block party was raging on today in Harlem, I sat down, much against my own selfish will, with a 78 year old man and invest in his life for about an hour.

Life care visits (LCVs), as we call them, are one-on-one deep dives into the lives of people struggling with homelessness or poverty and are a huge part of what we do as an outreach leader for NYCR. Oftentimes long and detailed LCVs can be very taxing emotionally, mentally, or spiritually: today’s was no different. I had to meticulously go over information with this man who needed me to write it down as well because he has a bad memory and was afraid he would forget it as soon as he walked down the block. I didn’t know this information and so it was somewhat frustrating to my selfish self to have to take the time to care for him in this way. The information that I went over with him was supposed to give him several types of senior housing options he could get in NYC, assuming he had insurance. When the information had been passed on and written down I set him up an email so we could check his medicaid status. He told us he has gone to the HRA offices in the area several times and hasn’t ever received any benefits or living assistance.  With his newly created email we tried to make him an account online to check the status of his aforementioned medicaid so I could advise him on next steps.

When it came time to enter his SS# in order to check the status, he told me he didn’t have a social security number. Come to find out he is undocumented and that explains why he hasn’t received any benefits from the government. The frustrating part for me was that he had already been asked if he was a citizen and he had said yes, and that’s why I was advised by a much more knowledgeable coworker to do what I had done for him. It was definitely a let down for me because if we had known this beforehand then I wouldn’t have had to use up as much of my outreach time trying to get futile information for him.

Now, I realize that that sounds incredibly selfish; see paragraph 2. It was definitely an upsetting realization that there was next to nothing that I could do for this man but in the moment I had a hard time not thinking that it had just been time wasted.

As my wise and God-fearing coworkers told me after, it hadn’t been time wasted. Nothing God does is wasted; even when we think that it is. I was given the chance to come alongside God in the encouragement and love that he wanted to display to this man in Harlem on a hot Saturday. In moments like these, my gut reaction is sin. My immediate thoughts are selfish.

I am wrong.

This elderly man hadn’t experienced the level of conciseness and dedication to getting information across to him and he made that very clear. He thanked me profusely for taking the time and explaining things and writing them down for him. He needed to be listened to and seen and heard and cared for today. I was given the opportunity to be God’s stand-in for all that in his life and I was complaining because it seemed like a waste to me in the moment. I am a bit stubborn when it comes to learning about who God is and how he operates. It’s just so beyond me that I don’t tend to think about his heart for a person or situation before thinking about my own.

God could have easily given that frustrating opportunity to uncover just a tad bit more of his heart to any of the other outreach leaders today in Harlem but he chose to give it to me. His love for this man was so far beyond mine that it frustrated me. The demonstration of His concern for and intentional entry into this man’s life wasn’t even close to what it truly is. Sometimes I feel like a baby who “needs spiritual milk” before being fed the meat that I should be eating as a mature believer.

God’s grace towards me today was equal if even more than towards this man in that, he chose to teach me. His lesson of love was the gentle uncovering of sin in my own heart towards what I was called too. When my selfishness gets in the way of what God is trying to work in someone, it’s frustrating because I don’t get it. Time spent just listening to and showing interest in and care for a struggling man’s situation isn’t fun. It’s not cheap. It’s actually very costly.

But that’s how God loves.

Lessons learned,

Constant grace poured out,

Blessed.

Ben

 

A Peek Into the Heart of God

Today I had an experience in Harlem that I never thought I’d have. Never in my sheltered, privileged life could I have imagined the experience I had today. Today God gave me the chance to love on a serial killer.

“Junior” came to the bus like many others just looking for interaction and food. Upon seeing that we advertise helping people get shelter and housing he asked to speak to one of us. By God’s grace I was free and sat down with him in the front of our retro-fitted mobile-soup-kitchen of a bus. He explained to me that he had recently had an operation where they cut off his toe due to a series of unfortunate events. To spare a long story becoming longer, I’ll nix the details. We ended up talking about his health issues for just a couple minutes and then the real conversation started.

He mentioned that he had gotten out of prison last year and due to this series of events had been hospitalized from November of last year until this past March. I asked the routine question with care;

“Do you mind if I ask what you were imprisoned for?”

He leaned in a little bit and replied softly (others were in earshot);

“for murder. several murders.”

When asking our guests that question I have heard many things but I hadn’t yet heard that. I listened quietly as he told me that he had killed 11 people and spent the past 37 years in prison. They wanted to initially give him the electric chair but he had people in his corner pleading for his case. Upon hearing a small part of the beginning of his story I was given just a tiny piece of understanding as to why he had decided to do what he did. “Junior” had been abused by his older brothers as a young child and then given drugs to cope with the hurt. I didn’t ask details and just let him tell what he wanted to. He had been imprisoned from the tender age of 14 and classified as a serial killer.

“I have to learn everything again.” He said, “Everything is new to me.”

My heart broke. I held back tears. Before me sat a 50 yr old man who had spent only 15 yrs outside of prison. The pain and torment he had endured and used to fuel his past decisions was tangible.

I gently poked at his heart.

“How have you been dealing with your pain since you got out? How is your heart?”

He said he had two people he relies on when things get tough on him mentally: his nephew and his son. He contacts them regularly and also has been taking medications for his mental health diagnoses. Along with a list of mental struggles he also has been burdened with a recent diagnosis of osteomyelitis which is, in short, why his toe got amputated. He also has cancer and a seizure disorder which was evident as soon as I sat down with him. His hands and face constantly twitched and often delayed a word or two from coming out of his mouth.

I felt God’s pain for the experiences this man had gone through. I felt his love and acceptance of him even though he had done many terrible things. I wanted to stay in that life care visit for much longer, I wanted to become his friend. God drove my heart towards him. God did, not me. That level of brokenness in a single human being I had never experienced first hand before, but God does every second of every day. I was given the tiniest taste of how God’s heart is broken for the broken.

After giving “Junior” some information about where he could go and who he could speak to about the needs he had, I asked about his faith. His answer gave me hope,

“I accepted Jesus last year” he said.

“How has that helped you since? Are you doing ok dealing with your struggles?”

“It’s been tough,” he said, “but it has helped me.”

He accepted prayer and I felt the Spirit stirring in me as God talked directly to him. The love of God is an overwhelming thing. It isn’t picky. It doesn’t hold back. IT RUNS towards the brokenness in all of us.

“Junior” is still struggling with mental and physical health problems, but he is struggling with the mightiest power under, behind, and above him. When he was with me he wasn’t depressed or sad or angry at his situation, he is just battling each day as it comes. Please join me in praying for continued healing and strengthened faith in God in the coming months and years as he looks to an unknown future. I believe his violent tendencies have been released by the overwhelming God.

It was only about 30 minutes of my day but when it was done I was wrecked. Sometimes being given a peek into the heart of God can do that to you. God hurts for the hurting. He weeps over trauma, no matter how massive or minute. He is a God that walks alongside those who have done wicked things (me and you) and waits for us to come running to him with his arms flung wide.

There is no darkness that the love of Christ can’t blind.

 

I’m just a broken man who’s been loved on so that I can continue loving on other broken people.

Blessings,

Ben

 

Learning to Love Better

It’s been a long week.

The crazy thing is, I only worked three days this week. We had our weekly office day on Tuesday and then I had off Wednesday and Thursday. I only did two street outreaches this week but the past two days felt like they made up for the two days of absence previously. Experiences from both yesterday and today taught me things I didn’t know about how to better love people.

God has been using this job to consistently teach me how to be a better follower of Him and how to be less selfish in the ways that I perceive what Love is. I’ll use several examples from the past 48 hours to help you understand.

Love looks like grace given when an angry passerby comes up to you and tells you that the food you serve to the people is “garbage.”

This lady came up to me and was complaining that we have been serving garbage to people for 30 years now and it needs to stop, it needs to change. Most of you don’t know what we serve so let me give you a little taste; we serve vegan soup that consists of water, our own blend of spices, kidney beans, canned diced vegetables, and parboiled rice (so it cooks while we are on the way to the outreach). We also serve bread that has been baked fresh early that morning from a Portuguese bakery in Newark who provides bread to some of the biggest companies in NJ (among them, Shoprite). We also serve fresh made fruit punch and lemonade as well as cold water for those who are diabetic. When told that our soup was vegan and what it consisted of, this lady turned on the drinks and scolded me for serving sugar to sick people. Did she have a point? Yes. Was it good? No. People like the options of water and a sugared drink. Many times they don’t get choices as homeless people because they are just given whatever whoever is serving them sees fit or has the money for. Choices are a small part of restoring the dignity of our friends on the street.

Love looks like grace given when another angry passerby takes pictures of your outreach and complains that we are illegally parked (technically true) as well as blocking pedestrian traffic with “lowlifes” (not true at all). We have been at this specific location for years and NYC police know that the work New York City Relief is doing is for the good of the city and is indeed helping people out of desperate situations into a better, fuller life. In short, it doesn’t matter that we were illegally parked. As to the other things this man had to say about our outreach, they were straight from the Enemy himself. God kept my cool as I listened to an angry, certainly sad and hurt, man spew utter darkness and lies about the people we help in Harlem. I was told that what we are doing in fact does Harlem harm because we are extending the lives of people who should be dying and thus leaving a better Harlem in their wake. I was told that we at NYCR are going against natural selection and not letting it weed out worthless people…

On a cheerier note, love looks like being able to be a part of shoing (verb) a homeless man who walked into our outreach without anything on his feet. They were badly blistered and looked painful but I’m not entirely sure this man was fully aware of his situation. Upon trying to talk to Greg he would listen and answer a question or two but then snap out of reality and start to laugh to himself and go back to eating and it would be hard to get his attention again. Once attention was once again procured, the same cycle would repeat. From what he told me he just wanders, uses the train, and that’s his life. He couldn’t tell me any specific area of the city he was familiar with and just answered with “I’m on the train and then I walk around.” It’s a miracle he came upon our outreach. A volunteer family that had introduced us was concerned for his feet and so I said I was going to walk down the block to a Payless to try and find him a pair of shoes. The husband wanted to come with me and buy the shoes if we found them. As we walked into the store we saw that they were closing and everything was 60-90% off! God is good! We got him a pair of foam-soled comfy Champions for the low price of just $12!!! As we were checking out, the volunteer who had accompanied me’s wife called him to say that Greg was wandering off. After asking them to try and keep him because we were checking out, I checked with the volunteer and returned back to the outreach quickly as he was continuing to check out, to try and catch Greg before he left. When I got back, the volunteer’s wife told me he had already walked off in a direction and I set out in pursuit with the new shoes. By God’s grace Greg hadn’t walked too far yet and I found him shortly after. I tried to explain that he had left too early and we had a pair of shoes for him but he didn’t seem to understand much of what I was conveying. We sat down in a bus stop and I encouraged him to try the shoes on even though they were a size too small than what he had said his size was (the store had been all but stripped clean because of the sales). He assured me with the first sane sentence that had come out of his mouth since meeting him that “they will do fit, they will do.” As he put the new shoes on a single tear made its way down the side of his nose and tumbled to the ground. This was the sign from God to me that he knew exactly what was happening in that moment and of the realization of the love that he had been showed. To be honest I’m not too sure if he understood much of what was happening around him but I am grateful that he understood exactly what was going on in that moment. As I returned to outreach to leave back to base, I told the generous volunteers who had bought the shoes exactly what had happened so they could rejoice with me.

That was a blessed ending to a (2-day) long week of outreach for me. Those kinds of moments are found nowhere else but in the loving work of Jesus Christ to a broken world. I encourage you to think about your own life and what loving people means to you and how you need to maybe expand that image a little bit or change some things. If you don’t know how to do that, I encourage you to come and volunteer with us at NYCR. It’s not glorious and certainly not prestigious but I can tell you that it will be one of the most transforming and challenging experiences of your life.

Just another long short week in the books. Man God is so good for letting me do this kind of work. I am still amazed and humbled that he chose me for this!!

As always, I am in need of your prayers. This work is exhausting on every level and it’s only by grace and favor that I push on.

Blessings family,

Ben

Mortification

noun

“the action of subduing one’s bodily desires”

 

I just started The Mortification of Sin by John Owens. In the introduction, J. I. Packer mentions the “need for self-scrutiny” in the area of mortification in one’s personal life. He says, “In Scripture, as in Owen, much stress is laid on the deceitfulness of the fallen human heart, and the danger of self-ignorance, with the result that one thinks well of one’s heart and life when God, the searcher of hearts, is displeased with both.”

I have been guilty of this self-righteousness on many occasions and I have paid dearly for it. The continued stronghold of habitual sin in my life is evidence of it. There is no point in denying it so I felt the need to come clean with that first and foremost, or else the rest of these thoughts won’t be filtered through the correct lens.

Many of you have read my thoughts on myself and my struggles before, and with risk of boring or beating a dead horse, so to speak, I am prompted to discuss them with myself once more through writing.

I’m no stranger to failure, especially when it comes to overcoming the sin in my life. Some I have let entrench themselves so much that I’ve had a hard time removing them and have been working on renovations for years. The reason for this 30 day social media fast is just that, but even during this fast I have taken L’s. This is because I haven’t been committing myself to spiritual disciplines while I omit some of the most triggering parts of my life. As I mentioned a couple days ago, it’s not just a problem of omission, but a joint problem of lack of commission as well. Hence, my purchase reading of John Owen, who has been pronounced as a Puritan Giant for his writings.

I have been convicted of my lackluster approach thus-far of my fight for righteousness and purity. Too long have I sat on the sidelines of the battle for my soul and let grace pick me up every time I melt and give in. Whereas I know that grace is sufficient, I am reminded of Paul’s writings in Romans 6:1-2. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

It’s hard to pick up your weary self and put on the armor of God when you have been rooting for the other side; the side of comfort in the pleasure of sin, since day one. God has not called me to be a lukewarm man dabbling in sin and running back to him for forgiveness when I’m done!

It won’t come easy, and I don’t presume to overcome instantly, although I know that is possible with God. He wants me to get in the fight with him and learn instead of letting him continue to forgive when I haven’t even been taking a stand.

I am in need of the transforming love of Christ now more than ever.

As always, I petition your prayers.

Mesi anpil,

Ben

 

The Minutiae

“God is in the details.”

This is a quote that I have said many times in my life and I truly do believe it. I have been witness to this fact; been in front row seats, so to speak, of God’s detail-oriented work in the lives of those around me as well as my own. We like to focus on the big miracles of our time and often overlook or ignore the seemingly small miracles that happen all around us every day. I am guilty of this too. I have taken things that God has done in my life and chalked them up to chance, or to my own abilities or those of my family and friends.

We need to check our spiritual eyes on the regular, if not daily, in order to calibrate ourselves with the work that God both wants to do and is currently doing in our lives. This is why daily connection with his Word is so important (again, preaching to the choir here..). I am guilty of this as well, if i’m feeling strong or “good” an any given day, my tendency is to rely on myself and thus miss what God is doing around me.

When we are weak, we can see his strength more clearly.

Some may think that they need to be “good” or “strong” in order for God to show up and do stuff in their lives and they couldn’t be more wrong. The most transformative work God does is in the lives and hearts of those who are desperately wicked and in need of saving *raises hand*. Dat me.

When we come to a place of repentance and recognition of our own sin, the clouds of pride and perfectionism give way to clearer pictures of his varied grace, mercy and undying love. In this state, it is easier to see the minutiae of God’s handiwork. It is said, “Good things come in small packages.” and I’ll take that one step further into the subject of God’s work. “God’s good things often come in the smallest of details.”

I’ll give you an example:

Last week I met with a middle-aged gentleman named Sean at the New York City Rescue Mission. He had come to our co-op for clothes but wanted to talk to someone about transitional housing as well as employment opportunities. I’m glad that I could be the one to meet with him and help. His gentleness juxtaposed his situation. He has been living in one of the most hard, violent, prison-like shelters in NYC for the past 11 months. When he told me where he was staying my jaw almost dropped. I couldn’t believe that he was still there and still unharmed. I knew instantly that God’s hands of protection were on this man and I told him that. Anyway, to make a longer story less long (cus I could talk about stuff like this all day), we talked about his situation and he does have a caseworker through the shelter so I wrote him a referral from NYCR to his caseworker for help with a 2010e application as well as housing. I then directed him to several employment agencies where he could send his resume (thankful that he had one!) and hopefully get the ball rolling on work. He let me pray favor over him even though he didn’t pronounce Christianity and he left with tears welling in his eyes. I prayed for him throughout the week as he had stuck out to me that day and wouldn’t leave my mind. One of our follow up care team messaged our team on Wednesday saying that he had touched base with Sean and had been informed that Sean accepted a job with the Department of Education!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He just needs to wait for the background check to go through and then he will start!

My heart is so overjoyed at this small step forward! This is not a “golden ticket” for Sean, this is not the end of his hardship. He is still living in arguably one of the darkest places in NYC. What little time I spent at that shelter during my resource visit a couple weeks into working was the darkest moment I’ve been through emotionally and spiritually in a while. Much work still needs to be done in Sean’s life in order to get him back where he should be. But that DOESN’T nullify or minimize God’s amazing work in his life! A victory is a victory, no matter how small! I’m blessed to be able to say I was in the front row seat for that one. Looking in on the situation from the outside, one may think who is separated from the situation that it’s JUST a small step and his life is still messed up and there’s sooo much that has to be done. They wouldn’t be wrong, but because I was open to the work that God had for me that day, I am able to bless his Name for the small ways he works.

Stories like this are far less common than they should be in the work that we do. Focusing on how God moves in small ways keeps us encouraged and striving forward in the work that he has given us. If we are only encouraged by the seemingly big miracles then our hope will often dry up and we will become discouraged.

Take time to look for “the small, precise, or trivial details” of God’s amazing work. You’ll likely be blown away by all that is going on around you when you finally can see it.

I hope this story encouraged you! It sure did me. Keep your spiritual eyes open and focused!

Ben

Provoked to Love

I’ve just started reading Provoked by NYCR’s President and CEO Juan Galloway and the first chapter talks about how he has been provoked by God to love more fully and sacrificially. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how I connect with parts of his story. I am a selfish person and one who does not love others out of my own self. God has had to do a bunch of work in my heart in order even get me this far; and I have so far to go. If I look back over my spiritual life, I can see points and seasons where I was being gently drawn towards love through the situations and people that had been put in my path and story.

Haiti was definitely a crucible moment for me: physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was surrounded by people who needed love more than many of whom I had met in life before. I had the chance to grow closer to love every day. Many days I didn’t accept that call and just kept to myself, but the days where I chose to love sacrificially were the days that I had more peace than anything. I was living in the will of God for my life more fully on those days. Looking back on that time, I know that God had called me to Haiti in order to work on my heart. While I was indeed helping people who really needed it and building up my brothers and sisters in Christ, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed to be there in order to have my heart molded.

I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to spiritual disciplines and practices. I don’t take the hints easily and God rarely ever gets my “yes” when asking the first time. I am ashamed to admit this but it’s true. I can’t understand the patience of God when it comes to people like myself. Yet he still chooses to offer me great opportunities to serve him and expand his Kingdom? Like whaaat…

Well this new opportunity in NYC is no exception to his continual call to grow in love. My love has been challenged over and over while serving the people of NYC and I am grateful to say that I believe it’s been growing. God knew that I didn’t care for homeless people or people of NYC for that matter, yet this is where he chose to send me. The stretching is real folks! 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (NASB) This is the true challenge: that we, that I not only give people stuff, but that love is given. Love is a spiritual muscle and it needs to be trained in order to grow stronger and expand. This is why God puts us in challenging situations and gives us the grace to not only get through them, but to grow in the process.

My love hasn’t always been this warm. It used to be cold. It definitely isn’t as hot as myself or God want it to be. There’s much learning and growing to do in the love department for me but I know that I am in the right place for it to happen. I just have to let go of my selfishness and open my heart to those who need to be loved.

A quote in the first chapter of Provoked caught my eye, it is actually a passage from another book called The Three Battlegrounds by Francis Frangipane. It reads as follows:

“Is your love growing softer, brighter and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love…”

This text is provoking.. provoking of thought and inward assessment of one’s own love. Let it provoke you like it is provoking me to love others more fully, more readily, more sacrificially.

Blessings,

Ben